Live Music Will Return But Virtual Livestreams Are Here To Stay

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Amid the news that Glastonbury has been cancelled yet again, co-organiser Emily Eavis has announced plans to still work on Glastonbury-related projects throughout the year—including potential livestreamed events. Eavis told The Guardian that several artists had been in touch to still offer to perform at the farm and that a show could be built to be watched by people all over the world (such is the beauty of streaming).

Since most live venues in the UK closed their doors at the start of the pandemic, attempts have been made to try and keep live music as we know it going. Socially distanced outdoor gigs, smaller venues with limited attendance numbers and drive-in events were all trialled, although ever-changing restrictions soon put a stop to them again.

However, remote livestreaming has continued—which has the potential for huge long-term benefits across the industry. Venues have a limited capacity, but moving to online access means more tickets can be sold (meaning greater revenue opportunity, especially as the overhead costs of putting on a show are substantially lower). There’s also the ability to get a bit more creative and step outside the usual set-up of a gig, meaning it is unlikely the music industry will ever turn it’s back on live video technology.

The Power Of VR

If you’re thinking it’s a long way off from being close to the in-person live experience, you’d be right, but music professionals are working on it. Many virtual gigs are starting to be held at traditional venues for a more realistic experience. Some of these are struggling and closing at a rapid rate, and a vital part of the Save Our Venues campaign is to invite artists to raise money for venues by playing shows online.

Blossoms’ December gig at the O2 Academy Brixton was also streamed exclusively through MelodyVR, a platform on a mission to make streamed gigs feel more immersive by using virtual reality software and giving people a realistic 360-degree view. While it isn’t new technology—the first band to perform in this way was Years & Years who partnered with Samsung back in 2016—it is now much more accessible, so could play a bigger part in our future consumption of music than we ever thought possible before.

Some music fans are torn, appreciating the idea yet waiting patiently for normal gigs to resume. Content creator and musician Steff is a huge Pvris fan, and having seen them 10 times in person, has watched their two virtual gigs during lockdown, with a third lined up. Steff said: “I just feel that it’s not the same, it doesn’t feel as exciting because I don’t get to experience the lights and the music and the atmosphere in person and it takes most of the joy out of it.”

But she can also see the benefits. Financially, she hasn’t had to worry about trains, hotels and food, or think about what she’s going to wear. Sshe doesn’t count it out completely for the future: “I don’t prefer livestream concerts of my favourite band. However, if it was a band I like but wouldn’t see in person, maybe because of cost or the shows not being nearby, then I would definitely like livestream concerts to stay.”

While Steff won’t be the only conflicted fan, over a quarter of music fans in the United States and the United Kingdom reported that they’d be interested in seeing more music events broadcasted going forward.

Game Changing Performances

It isn’t just streaming traditional gigs that have proved lucrative, either—in April 2020, when staying inside was still a relatively fresh concept for us all, Travis Scott played a nine-minute set inside Fortnite, which was watched live by 12.3 million people. The gig was repeated four times to millions more, before being uploaded to YouTube where it has over 129 million views at the time of writing.

Two years ago, the DJ Marshmello was the first to perform on Fortnite, with the 10.7 million who attended raking in an estimated $30 million. Opening up the virtual world of music means seeing our favourite artists live is no longer restricted to seeing them on a stage.

While these big earnings and audience numbers are unlikely to be experienced by smaller grassroots bands, it certainly shows that there is potential—well beyond even the capacity of a sold-out week at Wembley.

Benefits of virtuality can also be seen in other areas of the industry. Hot House Music, a not-for-profit organisation founded in Derby in 2002, has schools across the UK. Founded by Jon Eno, it grew by 17.5% in 2020 as more and more people chose to learn music or take up singing lessons virtually during the pandemic.

Jon said: “Music is so important, especially at the moment when things are really uncertain. I’m really grateful for technology, which has allowed us to continue to provide lessons to our pupils across the country. We have exciting plans already in place to work with the University of Leicester on developing artificially-intelligent music teachers for schools.” 

He adds that he misses face-to-face interaction and can’t wait to see pupils ‘in person’, but the technology available in 2021 is ‘incredible’.

There are other reasons to keep live streaming and virtual events open, too. As Steff says, geography can make it complicated or impossible to attend real-life concerts. Other fans with agoraphobia, or who simply don’t like beer in their hair and having to stand behind the tallest man on earth, may also feel more comfortable in their own space.

James is a wheelchair user from Manchester, who says that virtual gigs have also made it easier for disabled music fans to see acts. While some venues have improved their accessibility in the past few years, smaller venues, in particular, can struggle. He said: “A lot of the artists I like are still performing at smaller venues, which in theory is great, but some are older buildings so accessibility is poor and there isn’t much that can be done about it. Travelling to the venues is a hassle as well, as the trains to Manchester are so poor. Rather than risking not getting there in time, or it taking up a lot of my day to get there, watching at home is a lot easier so I hope it becomes the norm for every gig to be streamed.”

Plus, how many times have you not attended a gig because you couldn’t find anyone to go with? Sepideh, who has found a love for K-pop throughout lockdown, is happy that she’s had the experience of virtual performances as a way to see her favourite groups, knowing none of her friends are fans who would go to in-person gigs with her.

Even when gigs can go ahead again, we have to be realistic. As well as all the above, the scramble for venue bookings is going to mean there could be a delay in how soon it is before you see your favourite band again—and many fans will likely take a livestreamed gig over nothing at all.

Words by Sian Kissock


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